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Don’t Just Be Pretty: Have a Smart Beauty Routine

By guest blogger Charmaine Leah, host of the video blog Glamology and founder of beauty eco-boutique Mint & Berry.

Many of us don’t give a second thought to our daily beauty routine—cleansing our face, moisturizing our bodies, applying makeup, or painting our nails. But it may surprise you that the average adult is exposed to more than 168 synthetic chemicals each day from personal-care products.

Chemicals such as phthalates, mineral oils, sodium lauryl sulphate, propylene glycol, and parabens are all commonly used in cosmetics. Many have known or suspected links to serious health problems like cancer, infertility, birth defects, and hormone disruption.

Part of the problem is that, unlike food or drugs, cosmetics come under little government regulation. In North America, government bodies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration don’t have the power to approve or regulate most cosmetic ingredients. As a result, manufacturers can use virtually any ingredient in their products without having to conduct any pre-market safety testing.

Recently, nonprofit organizations like the Environmental Working Group have begun conducting studies looking at chemicals in makeup and hair and skin products. Among other things, it’s found that more than one in five personal-care products contain chemicals linked to cancer; 45 percent have ingredients reported to be potentially harmful to reproductive systems and/or fetal development, and 60 percent have ingredients that can act like estrogen and disrupt hormones.

That isn’t to say all synthetic chemicals are harmful or dangerous, or that all products that include them should be avoided. It’s just that there is a lack of conclusive long-term safety information, and for our health, we should try to be as informed, knowledgeable, and smart as possible. We can’t possibly eliminate all of our exposure to synthetic chemicals. But we can certainly make choices that can reduce it.

Many people have begun to “green” their beauty routines to reduce their exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, buying products containing fewer of them. It’s easy, and in most cases it’s as simple as choosing Product B instead of Product A.

So, what can we do? Here are some practical tips to help you green your beauty routine:

Don’t believe labels. There is no legal definition for words like “natural,” “organic,” or “herbal” on beauty product packaging. Many products advertise these in their name but may still contain petrochemicals, toxins, and harsh preservatives.

Read ingredients lists. Learn to recognize the names of harmful ingredients, things such as: butyl acetate, BHT, coal tar, formaldehyde, parabens, phthalates, oxybenzone. If you come across any eyebrow-raising ingredients, search for them on the Skin Deep Cosmetic Database, an independent resource of personal-care product safety information.

Avoid buying products that contain “fragrance” or “parfum.” By law, companies don’t have to disclose what ingredients constitute “fragrance,” but often it’s hundreds of ingredients that may be toxic to the brain or cause endocrine or hormone disruption. Cleansers are often formulated with ingredients like sulfates, parabens, triclosan, and fragrance. Try switching to cleansers and products made with essential oils, fruit oils like lemon, avocado, jojoba, tea-tree oils, tea extracts, or aloe leaf juice.

Avoid lip products that contain lead, artificial colors, lanolin, or petrochemicals like petrolatum. Opt instead for those that contain beeswax, shea butter, and fruit pigments.

When shopping for beauty products, consider simple substitutions, like using avocado oil on your skin instead of mineral oil, cornstarch instead of baby powder; or try using coconut oil as natural eye makeup remover and a face/body moisturizer.

Use everyday ingredients from your kitchen to make many of your own beauty products like scrubs, masks, and skin treatments. Lots of easy recipes can be found online or in the book Organic Body Care Recipes by Stephanie Tourles, such as mixing ¼ cup olive oil and ½ cup brown sugar for a fabulous face and body scrub.

Read the book Not Just a Pretty Face by Stacy Malkan. It’s probably the most important book written about the toxic nature of the beauty industry. The book gives you lots of information on everyday products, resources, and tools to make smarter decisions on what to buy.

Shop online! The easiest place to find organic, natural, and nontoxic beauty products is on the Internet. Some of my favorite eco-boutiques are: Mint and Berry, Saffron Rouge, Futurenatural, Spirit Beauty Lounge, Green Line Beauty, Beautorium, and Sephora Natural & Organic.

Charmaine Leah is an organic esthetician with a deep passion for beauty and living a natural lifestyle. She’s an activist for chemical-free products and now helps educate others on the potential dangers of toxic cosmetics. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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9 Responses to Don’t Just Be Pretty: Have a Smart Beauty Routine

  1. Donna in Delaware September 21, 2010 at 9:31 am #

    I, for the last 5 years have upped my knowledge of beauty products, soaps, body washes, makeup, etc. The more I read labels, the better informed I become. It is amazing how many ingredients go into a product in order for it to make you look better or feel better. It’s like food, if there are too many ingredients contained in the product that you can’t spell, or heaven forbid, pronounce, then it’s not all that great a product. Like cottage cheese, for example, something simple. If it doesn’t contain just milk, cream, salt and maybe cultures, then why eat it? It surely doesn’t need thickeners and the like.

    I try to use products, with the least amount of ingredients and additives and must be (organically) plant based. It’s important to have organic or organic wild harvested plants used. Even Origins, they claim that their products do not contain a certain chemical, yet I did find it in one of the products that I used. Albeit, the additive was way down the list of ingredients, it was in there, which could affect someone with allergies to the chemical or it’s by-product, adversely.

    All I can say is to continue to read the label. Whenever I come across a product that I want to use and there is something in it that I haven’t any idea what it is, I immediately go online to the EWG mentioned above by Maria, and find out about it, the effects it have on the body and if it is allright to use said product.

    Forewarned is forearmed!

  2. claire September 21, 2010 at 1:24 pm #

    Have you tried Bubble and Bee products? A lot of them are USDA organic, and the owner, Stephanie, is working on a nontoxic toothpaste line currently. I’m really loving their deodorant and lip balm!!

  3. Linda Woodrow September 21, 2010 at 8:17 pm #

    I just have to share this link!Macadamia, Olive Leaf, Aloe and Avocado Face Mask

  4. Nicola September 22, 2010 at 1:18 am #

    Hi All,
    I have switched to Certified Organic products for both myself and my family, I loved the idea so much that I now have my own Home Based Organic business!! We have not looked back since…our bodies are more healthier and feel less toxic since the change, you should not only eat organic foods and use Certified Organic products for your own health but also the health of our planet earth. While I find the Cosmetic database is a good resource, I highly recommend doing further research into a company and their products on your own account, as the cosmetic database does not differentiate between synthetic ingredients and certified organic ingredients, which as you can understand their is a huge difference between the two, you may not always be getting what your wanting when researching on there!
    A great little book that I have utilized is the chemical maze pocket book that I carry around in my handbag! It has food additives as well as chemicals….
    Most company’s are all to happy to answer any questions that you may have if they have nothing to hide, so even ring their head office to check up on any ingredients that you may not be too sure of.
    take care all
    Nicola
    Independent Represenative
    http://www.mipurestorganics.miessence.com

  5. Lisa September 22, 2010 at 4:26 am #

    Agree with the author! Don’t be as you are if you can be much better and get better results in life! This is your strongest weapon – yourself!

  6. Lauren Slayton November 11, 2010 at 5:13 pm #

    This is so scary. I would love to know some brands that you feel are safe/better.

  7. Anti Age Products May 13, 2013 at 12:50 am #

    Good article. I’m dealing with many of these issues as well..

  8. Karen Kriebl March 9, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    My family and I have a farm on the Big Island of Hawaii and quite by accident we found that what we grew could nourish both the inside and the outside of our bodies. I think people are understanding this now and choosing to use real food to cleanse, moisturize, and heal. One of my favorites is anything with kukui nut oil. It is pure magic on the skin. Thank you for keeping the conversation going.

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